Jazz trumpeter Adolphus (Doc) Cheatham, who played with three generations of artists from Bessie Smith and Cab Calloway to recent up-and-comers, died in Washington on June 2, two days after performing at a Georgetown jazz club.
Cheatham, who would have celebrated his 92nd birthday Friday, died in his sleep at George Washington U. Hospital after suffering a stroke in his hotel room Sunday. His wife, Nelly, was at his side when he died, friends said.
During a seven-decade career, Cheatham played in countless jazz clubs as well as with big bands and accompanied such artists as blues singer Smith in the 1920s. In the ’30s he was lead trumpeter with Calloway’s band.
He didn’t emerge as a widely known soloist until well into his career — in his 60s — but in recent years had won wide acclaim for his version of the New Orleans sound. Fellow jazz artists marveled at his longevity.
Born June 13, 1905, in Nashville, Cheatham got his start in his hometown in the 1920s. Later he went to Chicago where he got his big break in 1926 when Louis Armstrong took a liking to him and picked him as his understudy.
Cheatham’s quartet was a Sunday brunch fixture for more than 17 years at New York’s Sweet Basil Club.
Although Cheatham could hardly walk because of arthritis, he avoided wheel chairs and hated a widely distributed picture of him in a rocking chair because he said it made him look old.
He relished talking about the jazz superstars with whom he had played, but was just as quick to embrace today’s youngsters on the rise.
“I don’t know about a generation gap,” Cheatham said recently of his professional bonding with the 23-year-old Nicholas Payton. “We just met on a cruise ship (seven years ago). He wanted to play with me and I gave him my permission. We’ve been friends ever since.”